One of the most challenging parts of sticking to a fitness and health regimen is diet and looking for easy diet plans to follow.
This critical area of your plan can quite easily be the deciding factor in your overall success. This is especially true over the long term. Slacking on your diet can hugely curb your effectiveness in reaching your fitness goals.
No matter how hard you train, or how much cardio you do, you will never reach your maximum potential without a dialed in diet. That being said, many people struggle to keep their diet on point for a number of different reasons. Lifting weights and hard training cause an increased appetite, and worse, some people have an easy time psychologically justifying eating burgers and fries after a serious gym session.
This won’t work out in the long run…
So there’s the problem; the most important determinant of your overall fitness and training is also the most difficult part to stick to. Fighting the urge to overdo it and crush everything in the kitchen, or run for takeout after that big workout can be entirely managed by two magical words: CHEAT MEAL.
Employed properly, cheat meals can help keep you sane and on track by providing a manageable, controlled break in the rules. When people completely restrict their diet for extended periods of time, sometimes the result is rather unhealthy binging—which, by virtue of the complete restriction, can be even more shocking to your body.
Cheat Meals Good or Bad?
Thus, cheat meals keep things balanced. However, their usefulness goes further than this to actually help your shape your physique, reset the hormones responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation, refill energy-critical glycogen stores. So, essentially by treating yourself to a cheat meal, you can keep your body’s calorie and fat burning furnace cooking.
Let’s be clear; this is NOT a free ticket to clean the house out. There is a smart way and a dumb way to approach cheat meals. Let’s go over some critical things to keep in mind in order to use cheat meals to your advantage and not your detriment.
Hormonal Impact of Restriction Diets
In the battle to get ripped and lean, many athletes will subject themselves to extended periods of low to no carbohydrates and deliberate calorie deficits. This causes a number of changes within the body and it may surprise you to know that a cheat meal thrown into this routine can actually improve your overall results.
Leptin is a protein that is produced primarily by fat tissue and is responsible for the regulation of appetite and manages some of your body’s energy supply. Leptin works in the brain’s hypothalamus, sending a signal to stimulate the use of calories already present in the body, while reducing the hunger signal which would trigger additional food intake. So, Leptin has something of a stimulant effect on the brain which can be hugely useful for athletes trying to get cut up.
In addition, ghrelin is a hormone that is made in the stomach and increases appetite and triggers the body’s release of growth hormone. Interestingly enough, super low calorie restrictive diets and vigorous exercise may increase ghrelin levels, causing increased appetite and ultimately, more eating and increased body weight.
So to sum up the hormonal effect of sustained restrictive diets and low carbohydrate diets, your body will attempt to hormonally balance out the deficits that you’re creating and may end up working against your goals. Not to mention that low-carb diets are well known for leaving your body very low on glycogen and reducing your performance and strength.
So what do we do about this?
Weekly cheat meals increase leptin levels and reduce ghrelin. After even a brief (72 hour) restrictive diet, your hormone levels can be knocked out of whack. The higher calorie cheat meal can help balance out the effects on your hormone levels and return your body to natural appetite levels and metabolism.
This is key to preventing the negative effects of a restrictive diet during a cutting phase and can improve thyroid function which ultimately improves metabolism. Interestingly, the metabolic effect of the cheat meal will last for days afterward. It’s also important to note that in very lean athletes, leptin levels drop quicker with short term fasting and restriction, so it is critical to optimize the processing of the leptin your body contains by sticking to a schedule and not skipping meals.
Examples of Cheat Meals And Cheat Intelligently
Sorry to disappoint, but a smart cheat meal is not an excuse to entirely gorge yourself on unhealthy junk food. However, it does help to think of the cheat meal as a reward for your discipline throughout the week, but this should not be a torpedo to your overall diet and fitness plan.
Stay away from sugar explosions—if you have a sweet tooth, treat yourself to a small dessert treat once in a while—but do not make your cheat meal an excuse to take in a bunch of refined sugars. Remember, increased carbohydrates and calories are good, but refined sugars have no real nutritional value and bear a number of other health concerns.
There is hope. Your cheat meal can still be delicious and help you reach your goals. The idea is to increase calories and carbohydrates, while maintaining the principle of a balanced meal; ie, some protein, some carbs, some fat.
This can include: a burger with the bun, pasta with meat, a burrito with the tortilla, steak and a potato and veggies or stir fry with rice, veggies and meat. So the goal is calorie rich, nutrient dense foods. You don’t want: all carbs (pizza, pasta alone, starches), or super sugar-rich food (cake, ice cream, etc).
Plan Ahead and Cheat for Success
One of the best things about a cheat meal is to manage cravings. As mentioned, many people that restrict themselves entirely from the delicious foods that we often crave will experience an incredibly strong urge to binge on these things, while inducing a state in their body that leaves them less able to digest and handle this sort of intake.
This is far from ideal. So plan a cheat meal or two into your week, thinking of them as a reward. However, these should not result in cheat days or take you off your plan. Your other meals should continue to be eaten and in the same volume; don’t eat less because you know you have a cheat meal coming.
The idea is to increase caloric intake not replace other calories.
Skipping other meals due to the proximity of a cheat meal will only lower the positive hormonal and metabolic impact of the cheat meal. Also, some athletes have a difficult time bouncing back into disciplined diet after a cheat meal early in the day. Therefore, it may be most effective to make dinner your cheat meal and avoid the urge to continue cheating throughout the day.
Calorie and carbohydrate restrictive diets employed for even 72 hours can actually have reverse effects on your body’s appetite and energy regulating hormones and metabolism.
Cheat meals, consisting of a balance of increased carbohydrates and calories along with protein and healthy fats, provide an excellent way to satisfy cravings and keep you on track with your regimen, while actually keeping your metabolism burning at a higher rate for days after the meal.
Remember, don’t overdo it and don’t abuse the sacred cheat meal!
P.S Whats your favorite cheat meal? Let us know below…
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